This trip has been more than 10 years in the making. What started as one of those dreamy ‘what-if’ conversations with my wife before we got married and had kids has now turned into reality. Earlier this week I redeemed 120,000 Aeroplan miles and booked four flight reward tickets to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland next summer.
It’s the first trip across the pond for our family of four and we’re planning to stay for one month; with two weeks in Scotland and two weeks in Ireland. We saved thousands of dollars by redeeming Aeroplan miles on flights to the U.K. While we didn’t get exactly what we wanted in terms of flight rewards I did manage to avoid several pitfalls to help us maximize our points. Here’s what we did:
Redeeming Aeroplan Miles on Flights to the U.K.
I’ve been covering Aeroplan for years through this blog and as a freelance writer for the Toronto Star. This experience has taught me many of the pain points that Aeroplan members feel when they redeem their miles for flight rewards. For example, I wrote about an Aeroplan member who tried to redeem his miles for two business class tickets to Glasgow, Scotland, only to find out his ‘free reward’ would cost him $2,200 in fees.
Other readers complained that Air Canada’s carrier fees and fuel surcharges levied on flight rewards often added up to more than the cost of booking the flight directly with Air Canada.
Tips for booking Aeroplan Rewards
I turned to the industry experts to get tips on how to maximize Aeroplan miles for flight rewards and learned that the biggest trick is to avoid Air Canada whenever possible. You see, Air Canada is part of the Star Alliance and, for now, Aeroplan members can redeem their miles on any of the 27 partner airlines. Some of those partner airlines, such as United, don’t levy fuel surcharges, so you can save hundreds if not thousands of dollars by flying on one of those airlines instead of Air Canada.
Trouble is, the Aeroplan flight search tool will often only display the Air Canada flights. A savvy customer looking to maximize his or her points while minimizing fees will have to do some extra research.
Check Google Flights
Check Google Flights for the direct flights or flight combinations that match your trip and then (patiently) try to find those routes on the Aeroplan flight search tool. You can filter the routes to show only Star Alliance members (or even one member in particular) to help you zero in on the best available options.
Be flexible with dates and itinerary
For weeks we had an itinerary set in our minds. We wanted to fly business class on United Airlines from Calgary to Dublin and then fly home business class on United from Edinburgh to Calgary. The two things we had going for us was that our dates were flexible (leaving somewhere between June 12 and June 26) and we were willing and able to book a year in advance.
United opens up their flights for booking 330 days out (as opposed to Air Canada, which is 355 days in advance). Hoping to score business class seats as soon as they became available I started checking once that window opened but unfortunately could not find anything – not even economy flights – on United to Dublin next June.
Eager to book our accommodations and map out the rest of our journey I tried another option: doing our trip in reverse and flying into Edinburgh. Bingo!
While I couldn’t find business class seats I did see four economy seats on a great route on United from Calgary to Chicago to Edinburgh. Best of all, the fees and taxes on four tickets amounted to just $345.64. I snatched those up in a hurry!
Call an Aeroplan booking agent
If you do have trouble finding exactly what you’re looking for – especially with a more complicated itinerary – then contact an Aeroplan agent. You’ll pay a $30 booking fee if the agent completes the booking on your behalf, but it’s a relatively small price to pay to avoid wasting time searching for flights on your own.
As you can see, we’ve only booked one-way tickets to Scotland. That’s because our return date is currently outside the booking window. We’ll have to wait a few weeks and then go through this process all over again.
The good thing with Aeroplan rewards is that they don’t penalize you for booking a one-way ticket instead of a round trip. It’ll cost 120,000 Aeroplan miles to get four economy seats on our return journey to Canada – same as it was on the way to the U.K. If we can find business class seats on the way home from Dublin then it’ll cost 220,000 Aeroplan miles.
So while we don’t quite have our entire itinerary booked, here’s what we have planned so far:
Calgary —> Chicago —> Edinburgh —> Inverness
We leave from Calgary on the morning of June 13, 2019 and fly into Chicago O’Hare where we have a five-hour layover before we fly directly to Edinburgh, Scotland. We have unlimited airport lounge visits thanks to my American Express Platinum Card, so we’ll handle that layover in style.
We’ll arrive early on the morning of the 14th and plan to stay 2-3 nights exploring the city and checking out nearby attractions such as Rosslyn Chapel and St. Andrews Links.
From there we’ll take the ScotRail train service to the Scottish Highlands where we plan to find an Airbnb in Inverness to call home for the next 10 nights or so.
Inverness is rich in history and so it’s a good location from which to take day trips to visit Loch Ness, Fort William, and the famous Hogwarts Express train that runs across the Glenfinnan viaduct.
Inverness —> Dublin —> Kilkenny
Scottish regional airline Loganair has direct flights from Inverness to Dublin and if we book far enough in advance we can get four tickets for around $350 CAD. Once we arrive in Dublin we’ll head to Kilkenny via IrishRail – a 90-minute train ride that’ll cost about $50 for our family of four.
We’ve already got an Airbnb picked out at a farmhouse just outside of Kilkenny, where we’ll stay for 14 nights. Similar to our stay in Inverness, we’ll rent a car in Kilkenny when we feel like visiting the surrounding attractions. Otherwise we plan to live like the locals and spend lots of time exploring Kilkenny.
Kilkenny —> Dublin
After our two-week stint in Kilkenny we’ll return on the train to Dublin and stay in the city for 2-3 nights. Here’s our chance to check out the lively Temple Bar, Guinness Storehouse, Trinity College, and Dublin Castle.
Dublin —> Chicago / Newark —> Calgary
That will bring us to the end of our epic journey to the U.K. and so we’ll be looking for a return flight on or around July 12th, 2019. Again, we hope to fly business class on United, but we’ll see what’s available and keep our options open.
I’ve redeemed Aeroplan rewards for short hauls to Vancouver and Victoria, but never for a big trip to Europe. I’m glad I took the time to research the tips and tricks to maximize my miles while minimizing carrier charges and fuel surcharges. I’m also pleased that we got decent flights, not some milk run with 3-4 plane changes and hours of layovers.
The total trip will cost us 240,000 to 340,000 Aeroplan miles (depending on whether we can get business class return) and $700 in fees and taxes. That’s compared to booking directly through Air Canada and paying $4,500 for four round-trip flights.
We also hope to use hotel points to cover our 2-3 night stays in Edinburgh and Dublin. That means the bulk of our expenses will be for accommodations in Inverness and in Kilkenny. The Airbnb in Kilkenny will cost $2,400 CAD for 14 nights, and prices in Inverness should put our 10 night stay at around $2,000 CAD.
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I’d love to keep our flights, hotels, and Airbnb accommodation under $5,000 so we can free up more of our budget to spend on dining and entertainment. We’ll also need to factor in ground transportation – car rentals, bus, and train – which can be expensive. Can we visit the U.K. for a month and spend less than $10,000? Time will tell, but we’re off to a great start!